MEGASKILL THREE: EFFORT
The value of believing in effort over native ability is that you can help children do something about their level of effort. It’s harder to help them do something about their level of ability. Ability seems set in stone; effort can be influenced; it’s open to change.
In Texas, elementary school children having difficulties with subtraction were divided into four groups–A,B,C,D. Each group worked on its own with a packet of materials. An aide checked the work in groups A,B, & C every eight minutes. As the children came to a new section, the aide gave them the new instructions. To group A the aide said, “You’ve been working hard.” To group B she said, “You need to work hard.” Group C received no comment. Group D had no involvement with the aide other than to hear her read the instructions to everyone.
Group A, that was told, “You’ve been working hard,” actually did work harder than the others. They completed 63 percent more problems & got three times as many right on the test that followed this training. They also said that they felt more confident about the test & their ability to deal with the problems they would face.
We can talk children into making more effort. They do not have to be afraid. We can help them see that more effort can mean better results.
Learning About Effort: Here are some suggestions on how to give kids the opportunity to know effort when they see it & to practice effort on their own.
My Day–any age
Spend time talking with your children about the pleasures of your work & of effort. Try to be as specific as possible. Don’t stint on letting children in on the everyday efforts & goings-on at work & at home that illustrate effort & the sense of satisfaction that comes with it. Not all problems are solved quickly or easily. Let children in on your frustrations. But when you do talk about the day’s problems, try to discuss what you are doing & what your children think can be done to solve these problems. Ask children about their day too. Urge them to follow your lead in talking about the little successes.
The Extra Mile–any age
Help your children know what we really mean when we say “make an effort.” Take time to point out to children those people who are making that effort. Point to others who are making an effort & showing how much you respect this.
Homework & Effort: Asian children go to school 240 days a year, while American children go only 180 days a year. Asians believe that hard work makes a difference, & they let their children know it. The Japanese count on persistence & patience to win the day. They just plain outwork everyone else. They have long-term perspective, & they’re persistent. They work long hours; they live in accommodations Americans would not accept. Our young people need to learn about endurance & to be taught the importance of effort.
Parental Infrastructure: At least three kinds of parental discipline patterns have been identified.
Permissive: Adult makes few demands on child & sees child as own self-regulator. Authoritarian: Adult has set standard of conduct in mind & sets out to shape child to fit it, using force & punishment to curb child. Authoritative: Adult sets standards & asserts control but sees child’s need for reason & understanding.
The trick, & it’s a tough one, is for parents & for teachers to be authoritative without being authoritarian. It’s not easy.
A Study Place–ages 4-9
Children need their own place at home to do schoolwork. Fancy equipment is not needed. Use old furniture. Cut it down to size as needed. You need a table or desk, a chair, a light.
Walk through your house with your child to find that special study corner. It need not be big, but it needs to be personal. Paint cardboard boxes or orange crates for bookcases. Latex paint is easy to clean. Encourage your child to decorate the study corner; a plant & a bright desk blotter do wonders.
A study place can be a desk, or it can be a modest lapboard for a child to use atop a bed.
A Homework System–ages 10-12
There is a better way than nagging children every day about schoolwork. This activity enables children to keep track–on their own–of what has to be done. You need paper & a marker.
Use a sturdy, large piece of paper to make a homework chart that can be posted on the wall. Here’s what one looks like:
Days English Math S.Studies Science
Make checks to represent school assignments. To show completed work, the check gets circled. Attach to the chart a marker or pen so that it is always handy.
Talk About Homework: Talk about assignments with your child after they’re completed. This is more of a conversation than a checkup. Was the assignment difficult? Easy? Would your child like to know more? Consider follow-up trips to a museum or library.
Our Home: A Learning Place–any age
Help your home (even if it’s a small apartment) convey the message that people learn here.
You want children to be reading as often as possible. Let there be books & magazines everywhere, including the bathroom. Let your children see you reading, & talk with them about what you’ve read.
You want children to be writing as often as possible. Put notepads & pencils in a number of places around the house, including next to the telephone, for messages. In the kitchen use them for grocery lists, & keep them next to the bed for putting down that brilliant middle-of-the-night thought.
Use a bulletin board or magnets on the refrigerator to display children’s schoolwork & artwork. Or use an indoor clothesline with clothespins. Youngsters enjoy changing these displays themselves.
Time For Studying: Some children are faster to finish classroom work than others. When you talk with your children about schoolwork, ask if they think they are putting in enough time to do it really well.
Effort is Pleasure: Talk about the pleasure a writer gets, an artist, etc. Children need to know that effort is the path we take to achieve mastery.